In France, retirement age is becoming a major topic in view of the presidential elections, with a first round on 22 April and a second on 6 May. A highly contested reform proposed by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy was adopted by the French parliament in November 2010, despite week-long mass protests.
The major reform featured an increase of the legal retirement age from 60 to 62 years from 2017 on. In order to receive full pension payments, French will have to work until the age of 67 in the future.
Sarkozy announced his candidacy for re-election yesterday (15 February). But his main competitor, the Socialist François Hollande, would like to undo some parts of the reform.
According to him, people having started to work early would be able to retire at the age of 60 (instead of 62), as was the case before Sarkozy's reform. The sole condition: they must have paid their contributions for a period of about 42 years.
Germany as a model
In the French public debate, politicians have been increasingly comparing their their country with Germany, seen as a symbol of economic success. Sarkozy's camp often points out that in Germany, it was the Social Democrats, in coalition with the Greens, which voted for the gradual increase of the retirement age against the fierce resistance of trade unions.
the highly controversial pension reform became effective on 1 January 2012. The retirement age to obtain a full pension is to gradually rise from 65 to 67 by 2031.
Federal Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) said recently that she saw no alternative to a retirement age at 67. According to her, there are more and more older people receiving pensions and less and less younger ones working for them.
The only alternative for compensating this imbalance would be smaller pensions or a substantial increase of contributions. However, she said that those alternatives were "unreasonable". In Germany, retirement age has been used by politicians as a political tool to press EU countries under economic strain to accept reform.
Pushing for austerity
In May 2011 Angela Merkel blasted the heavily indebted southern European countries, saying they needed to raise retirement ages and reduce vacation days.
"It is also important that people in countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal are not able to retire earlier than in Germany - that everyone exerts themselves more or less equally. That is important," Merkel stated. She added: "We can't have a common currency where some get lots of vacation time and others very little. That won't work in the long term."
In spite that the fact that Merkel's statements were intended for a domestic audience, Italy and Spain, left-wing parties backed budget cuts, raising the retirement age and freezes or reductions in public sector pay as part of austerity programs enacted to save those countries from being shut out of capital markets. In Greece, retirement before the age of 65 is a fading dream for those still in work.
Leftist parties are conservative
In the Czech Republic, pension reform is one of the main issues of the current Czech government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democratic Party). Its final form was approved in September 2011 and the reform should come into force in January 2013.
According to the reform, people currently in their 50 will be able to claim pension at 63, people presently around 20 will retire at 69, and children born this year will retire at 73.
The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), the primary opposition, has come out against the reform. Trade unionists in the country's larger cities organised a major strike last June. Nečas stood firm however.
In Slovakia, the maximum retirement age was set at 62 years, both for men and women. Before the fall of the government in October 2011, there was a plan to link the life expectancy among the elderly and the retirement age since January 2016. The next steps will be clear after the early parliamentary elections in March. According to experts the current system is unsustainable and the retirement age will have to go up.
In Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his ruling liberal Civic Platform (PO) have proposed raising the retirement age for women from 60 to 67 and for men from 65 to 67. This should happen gradually, starting from 2013.
Some parties, like the conservative opposition Right and Justice (PiS) and the leftist Alliance of the Democratic Left (SLD) want a referendum on this question. The trade union Solidarność has already gathered over a million of signatures and shall send its application for the referendum to Sejm (lower chamber in the Polish parliament) this week.
Life expectancy differs substantially
According to Solidarność leader Piotr Duda, Poles still live statistically shorter lives than citizens of the older EU members and that is why they should have the possibility to retire earlier than the others. Life expectancy in Poland is of 71.5 years for men and 80.1 years for women.
Indeed, life expectancy differs starkly throughout the EU. According to Eurostat, life expectancy for women is the highest in France (85 years), Spain (84.9) and Italy (84.5). For men, it is at 78 in France, 78.6 in Spain and 79.1 in Italy.
However, the figures are dramatically lower for countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania. In Lithuania the life expectancy for men is 67.5 for men and 78.7 for women, in Latvia, it is 68.1 for men and 78 for women. In Estonia, it is 69.8 for men and 80.2 for women. In Bulgaria, it is 70.1 for men and 77.4 for women, and in Romania – 69.8 for men and 77.4 for women.
In Romania, the most recent developments in the pension law require men to retire at the same age as women, 65. Any retirement at an earlier date will be penalized. This law will start applying for men as of 2015 and for women as of 2030.
The first women to retire at 65 will be the ones born in 1965. Romanian workers' unions have opposed this law because, they say, Romanians have fewer chances to find a job after 45, unlike citizens in other European countries, and their life expectancy is considerably lower than that of their European neighbours.
In Bulgaria, according to the recently passed pension reform, retirement age will grow gradually from the present 60 years for women to 63, and for men, from the present 63 years to 65.
The European Commission is working to convince member states to adopt "automatic adjustments" in their pension legislation so that the retirement age is pegged to life expectancy, EurActiv has learned. A Commission White Paper on the future of pensions is expected to be published today.